Surveillance cameras are now so powerful that they were able to zoom in on individual spectators at the Rugby World Cup and read their text messages.
Details of police monitoring used for the first time during the tournament were discussed at a privacy forum in Wellington yesterday, at which it was revealed that the average person is digitally recorded about a dozen times a day – and even more if they use email and social media frequently.
Soon, technology will exist that can pick up on raised voices, and sniffing devices will be able to detect drug residue, Stirling University lecturer William Webster told the forum.
Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff said some overseas developments were amazing and she imagined there would be concern if and when that technology was implemented in New Zealand.
Civil liberties lawyer Michael Bott warned against becoming desensitised to digital surveillance.
“It’s quite worrying when we, by default, move to some sort of Orwellian 1984 where the state or Big Brother watches your every move. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and we don’t realise what we are giving up when we give the state the power to monitor our private lives.”
Ms Shroff said that, although reading someone’s text messages in public could cause concern, the legitimacy of the action depended on what it was used for.
“We need to be aware of that – that potentially texting in a public place can be caught on a CCTV camera. If the text showed the person was plotting a riot or something, then it might well be legitimate for the police to use that under the coverage of exemption for law-enforcement activities.
Arizona news station KVOA to monitor the public, more to follow?
Seeking an edge over the competition, KVOA-Channel 4 put together a network of remote-controlled HD cameras throughout the city to capture live footage of news as it occurs.
News 4 Tucson Skynet lets the station instantly pull up footage of traffic problems, weather and other news as it breaks.
Jeff Clemons, KVOA's marketing director, said the system, which went online April 25, gives the station access to footage others might need a helicopter to get.
"We're able to scan the streets for pretty much whatever's out there."
Clemons said he's not aware of any negative legal ramifications of having the system in place.
"Anybody can put up a camera. It's what you do with that camera," Clemons said. "We have a strict policy in place for what it's used for. Who uses the camera and the monitoring of it. It's pretty well spelled out to employees."
Clemons said there was fierce debate at KVOA over whether or not to stick with the Skynet name, which happens to match that of the evil artificial intelligence organization that battles humanity in the "Terminator" films.
"The line we kept coming back to was that was a movie; this is not," Clemons said.
The cameras can rotate 360 degrees, tilt up and down and are equipped with windshield wipers. Clemons would not say how many cameras there are or how much money KVOA invested in the project.
Clemons said he's not sure if KVOA is the first to implement such a system, but he said it was the brainchild of KVOA President and General Manager Bill Shaw. The vision was that KVOA could use the system for footage of breaking news quicker than competitors.
"When breaking news happens, we've got to get a news crew to the scene, and that takes 'X' amount of time," Clemons said. "We're hoping to cut that time down to an instant."